Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 295th good thing about Lagos: a day center for street kids

Before I left Lagos for Christmas, I visited a new facility that serves the needs of kids that live on the street.  The Child Life Line Reception Center at Gbagada is a drop-in day center for street kids.  They have another center in Ibeshe, near Ikorodu, that is residential for street boys, which has been in existence for a number of years. This new facility, just opened a year ago February,  gives street kids (boys and girls on alternate days) a place to come during the day. 

They wash their clothes and have a place to clean up, sleep in the morning (since they can't sleep much on the streets at night) and have some classes or training on life skills or literacy and they get a free meal.  The center is just open from 7 AM to 4 PM, so at 4 they go out to their life on the streets -- most have some kind of jobs.  Some boys work as a bus conductor, for example.  Child Life line's staff of social workers try to get kids reunited with their families wherever possible, or to get some that are willing into residential centers that have openings.  Some of the kids are fine with living on the street and don't want another life, but this center gives them a quiet, secure place to spend part of their day. 
 These boys had been awakened from their morning sleep to greet us.
 They sleep on mats in this room.
 Laundry draped on the wall to dry.  The Reception Center is trying to organize locker storage space so each of the regular attendees can keep a spare set of clothes at the center so they can wear that set while they wash the clothes they came in wearing.

The children that use the center vary each day.  They tend to have around 15 kids there each day, but it varies widely.  They separate the sexes they allow in each day, as there were a multitude of problems that arose when they were there together. ;o)  But occasionally when something special is going on, they allow both boys and girls to come use the facilities on a certain day, and attendance always goes way up that day.  The staff track the attendance of the kids, but can do nothing but make the facilities more useful or appealing to encourage the kids to come there.  

This is the kitchen where the cook fixes lunch each day.  There isn't much working equipment here, but getting a free meal is a real plus for these kids.

 Below is the bathroom building.  Getting another one built is a priority for the Center and I'm working on some angles trying to help them get funding for this.  The kids line up to use the one toilet and shower each morning.  They have plans for another building next to this one that will have two toilets and two showers.  It is really needed!
 The shower looks like it's almost in the toilet....
 I'm sure having the foosball and ping pong games are a real draw for the boys.  The concrete tanks in the background are fish tanks.  They have similar ones at the Residential Child Life Line Center.  The tanks had recently been stocked with small fish and they will be great to use for their meals when they get bigger.
 The boys we met seemed to be quite happy having a quiet and safe place to stay during the day.
Living on the street is sometimes appealing to children who have left home to get away from rules.  For a time, many enjoy having a job that brings them in a dollar or so a day and the freedom to do as they please.  Some street children have been thrown out of their homes for various reasons.  Whatever reason they are on the street, I know that it is a good thing that they have a safe and quiet place to spend part of their day.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The 294th good thing about Lagos: cute school kids at Ife Oluwa

Before I left for Christmas I made a stop at Ife Oluwa, a charity that is supported by the American Women's Club.  They serve the community with a clinic and a school.   I was delivering a baby scale that had been donated by a Girl Scout group in the States.  The nurses in the clinic were thrilled to get the scale, saying that they didn't have one that worked. 

 I stopped in and visited the school and caught the kids at lunchtime.  The school provides a lunch for them every day.

I've been making some repeated visits to this charity recently.  They are having some hard times making ends meet, especially with the clinic.  The school generally can keep up with paying their salaries, but the clinic often gets behind on their salaries, as the clients of the clinic don't always pay their bills and Mama insists they treat those who come to them even if they haven't paid what they owe.  The AWC approved the use of some discretionary funds to help them with the clinic salaries last month, and the doctor who manages the accounts is hopeful that by March they will be up to date.  I'm visiting Ife Oluwa tomorrow with some interested women and we will be asking questions and assessing how we can help this charity meet the needs of those they serve. 

The 293rd good thing about Lagos: A modest church wedding

Weddings are usually big affairs in Nigeria.  There are often two or more ceremonies (traditional, church, civil) and often they have hundreds of guests and run up into large expenses.   A couple of years ago we attended a very nice wedding of one of Brent's co-workers, and I'm sure the expenses were huge.  This cultural expectation for a large and expensive wedding often serves as a disincentive for young people to get married and often Nigerians will wait till they are older to get married so they can afford a big celebration.  In my church, the LDS church (sometimes called Mormons), marriage and families have a high importance.  Church leaders here in Nigeria often try to stress when speaking to and counseling young adults that this cultural expectation to incur great expenses for wedding celebrations imposes great difficulties and stress on families.  They encourage young adults to date, build relationships and to find a partner to marry, and to join in marriage without incurring great debt that will cause difficulties for them and their families.  It was great to participate in such a wedding with a young couple in our congregation.

Joycelyn and Michel were married in a simple ceremony in our church building.  We helped with very modest decorations and refreshments.  Joycelyn provided a cake and we celebrated their union together. 

 Here are some of my photos from after the ceremony.
 Lots of church members were there to join in the celebration.

 Like many young Nigerians, Joycelyn and Michel struggle to maintain good employment and it's difficult for them to make ends meet.  But now they are facing their struggles together and they seem to be doing it very joyfully.  And I think that's a very good thing!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The 292nd good thing about Lagos: Christmas Caroling by candlelight

I got a real Christmas bonus in Lagos in December when I was in town for what I hope will become a holiday tradition here -- Caroling by Candlelight at the US Consul General's residence.  The Staffords were so generous to host an American Women's Club gathering for eating of goodies and carol singing.  I helped organize the music and played the piano for the event.  There was a great turnout.  I got pictures of various people eating, but decided it wasn't good to post them without permission here, so I just posted the picture of Brent and I below.  After some snacking, we gathered around their grand piano and sang some fun songs -- the group especially got into "The Nigerian 12 Days of Christmas."  "On the first day of Christmas, my mama gave to me, fufu with egusi...."  We then had some carols to settle the group down while we handed out candles in cups and sang some religious carols accompanying the narration of the Christmas story from the Bible.  There was a beautiful spirit in the room.  Even when it's hot outside, the Christmas spirit can be present when music invites it in. 

The 291st good thing about Lagos: a church Christmas program

I'm still playing catch-up on my blog posts -- still got a ways to go before I'm in 2012, though.  Just a few days after Thanksgiving last November, we were into Christmas in Lagos.  Most expats leave fairly early in December, so if there is celebrating to do here, there is no time to waste.  Because I am among the early December leave-takers, I haven't been around to do much Christmas celebrating here.  But this past year someone scheduled and organized an ecumenical church Christmas program for the Sunday afternoon after Thanksgiving.  I helped her choose music for a choir and we spent some very enjoyable times practicing together.  It's always so fun to sing Christmas music and choir singing is one thing I really have missed while I'm here.  I get back to the States in time to listen to Christmas music programs, but not to sing in them and singing has always been such a big part of my holiday experience.   I don't have any pictures of our little choir (only about 8 voices or so), but we had a nice varied program with narration and a children's  Christmas play in between our music.  The pictures I have are of the Saturday dress rehearsal.  The kids were so cute in costume -- and they were even better in the Sunday performance. 

 Aren't these angels cute?
 The wise men were my favorite, though.  They did some serious gazing through paper telescopes and commenting on the size of that star.
 I've been involved in many of these programs over the years, but I never get tired of them.  There's always some disorganization and lots of cheesiness, but there's a sweetness to the unsophistication of it all and the Christmas spirit descends.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The 290th good thing about Lagos: Experiencing the Eyo Festival

In November these large effigies started appearing around the streets of Lagos, offering a signal that the Eyo Festival would soon take place. 

 This signature masquerade of Lagos Island originated in 1852.  It doesn't occur on a regular basis  -- it was last held in 2009, but the time before that was in 2003.  This is the 83rd occasion of the Eyo play.  It  is held in memory of an important person from Lagos Island who made a significant contribution to the community during his life.  The festival is kind of a funeral rite, but often recognizes someone who passed away a long time ago.  This 83rd Eyo play honored the late Chief Yesufu Abiodun Oniru, who reigned from 1934-1984 -- a 50 year rule!  The program said that he was born in 1864, which made him 120 when he died!  I don't know if his birth date is authenticated, but everyone agrees that he was very long lived.

The Eyo masquerade historically took place on the streets, ending in an open area.  When it was performed in 2009, the decision was made to move the play to the large Tafewa Balewa Square, so more people could watch the spectacle in a more secure environment.  Though we were in Lagos at that time, we were advised by our company security to stay away from the festival, as they were worried about our safety on the streets.  I had friends attend then and they had no problems, and so I jumped at the chance to attend this time, especially after a friend from African Book Group, who is on the organizing committee, got us tickets in the VIP seated area.  I'm so glad I had the chance to experience the Eyo festival, as it is such an interesting peek into the culture of traditional Lagos Island.  This time we didn't even ask the company security people about going, as I didn't want them to warn us against it, we just made plans to attend.  There were a couple of moments entering and leaving the stadium when we worried about our safety, but most of the time we were up high above the action in comfortable, covered seating, with waiters bringing us food and drink.  We also got a gift bag with a historical book and program to the festival, a souvenir polo shirt and DVD with a documentary history of the festival.  

 Approaching the stadium, there were various groups of Eyo figures gathering outside. The Eyos are symbolic representations of spirits come to cleanse the streets of Lagos.  The Aropale wrapper which covers the figure, drags along behind the figure, sweeping the streets.  The Eyo had been up all night symbolically purifying the city.  In reality, I'm sure many were drinking and partying, as the signs were already in evidence.  We saw some roughing up by some of these undisciplined groups.  There are different levels of Eyo groups -- some are more prestigious than others.  But when we passed by them, we were instructed to show respect by removing our shoes.  The staffs they carry, called opambata, have markings that are mostly blessings.  The Eyos can bless the passers-by with a touch of the opambata, or if they sense disrespect, they will strike you.  As we neared the stadium, we saw someone getting pretty soundly beaten by an Eyo. 
 But the Eyos I met at first were anxious to pose for pictures and glad that oyibos were coming to experience the festival.
 This a little child Eyo dressed up for the occasion. 
 Inside the stadium we were seated opposite the seating of the royal Oniru family, relatives of the honoree.  They were dressed for the occasion, many with matching outfits.  I'm sure it was very special for them to see their relative so honored. 

They did a lot of posing for pictures.

 In preparation for this event, someone had designed fabrics for the occasion with the name and picture of Chief Oniru.  There was a great variety of clothing for men and women made out of this fabric.

Events that were part of the festival had taken place over the prior few days, but we were there for the final culmination of the festival with the arrival of the Eyo groups in the square. 

We did a lot of people watching and visiting with friends.  Here's some of my book group friends in the stands.  In front is Aduke, who got us the VIP seats.  Many thanks, Aduke!

The action itself wasn't anything super exciting, but a long parade as the Eyos arrived and processed in with music and dancing. There were lots of groups with different looks and colorful touches.

 There was a great stir with the arrival of the Oba (traditional ruler) of Lagos:  His Royal Majesty Oba Rilwanu Osuolala Babatunde Aremu Akolu I.  He arrived in a motorcade and in the photo you see the umbrella out ready to cover him as he leaves the car.  The umbrella is a symbol of respect for the chief.  The photographers were crowding around to record his arrival.

The Eyo figures are known for their high leaping.  I had thought it was pretty amazing that they could jump high with their long draping robes.  I didn't witness any super high leaps as I had seen previously in pictures, but here's a video with some jumping.

 This guy on stilts was pretty talented.

After the "ordinary" Eyo groups processed into the stadium, it was announced that the more prestigious groups, the Orisha groups, would come in and, as a sign of respect, no photography would be allowed.  It was pretty amazing to me that, as predatory as photographers can be in this country, they did actually put down their cameras.  I put my camera down around my neck, but people motioned me to put it away in my bag.  I saw several people get into trouble when they made motions toward their camera.  So the most interesting part of the program I couldn't capture with photos.  They carried in an enclosure made from mats, called a Para, which holds a symbolic corpse of the honoree.  He was lying in state for several days prior to the festival and is paraded in with the Orisha groups.

The governor of Lagos State, Governor Fashola walked into the stadium (in contrast to the long motorcade used by Oba), wearing a white robe and the traditional hat, called an Aga, and he addressed the crowd.

 When we left the stadium, we were met by a musical group, who played for us, undoubtedly expecting some monetary reward.  They were disappointed, as we had purposely not brought any cash with us that day. 
 We passed many Eyo groups who had left and were partying in the streets. Most were polite and willing to pose for a picture.  Even though I had removed my shoes and was showing, I thought, the proper respect, I did get a pretty sound swat on my back from one of the Eyos.  I think he was taking advantage of the opportunity to hit the oyibo.  But I got more blessings than hits from the Opumbata that day.  The hit I received didn't really leave a bruise, but cemented a solid memory of our day at the Eyo Festival.  It was something I will never forget!